You've got spam—for now
If the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U-M researchers have their
way, consumers won’t be bombarded with endless spam in the future.
Assistant professor Marshall Van Alstyne of the School of Information,
computer science doctoral students Thede Loder and Rick Wash, and senior
technology industry and media executive Mark Benerofe will present their
anti-spam proposal, Attention Bond Mechanism (ABM), during a June 10
seminar of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics in Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers, economists and scholars from other universities will attend
the presentation, “An Economic Answer to Unsolicited Communication.”
ABM works like this: Everyone would be allowed to set a price at which
they accept e-mail from an unknown sender. The higher the price, the
less spam the recipient is likely to receive. Recipients could collect
from the sender the amount they specify for any spam received, unless
the e-mail was from a sender who was pre-approved.
The FTC is charged with fulfilling the provisions of the Jan. 1, “Can
Spam” Act, which requires them to look into the feasibility of a “Do
Not Spam” list comparable to the “Do Not Call” list
aimed at telemarketers. The federal agency is seeking ideas on how to
comply with the legislation.
“We’re hoping that congressional staffers, who might be present
or who will be informed by FTC staff, will put forward means of making
this alternative proposal a reality,” Van Alstyne says.
Some programs and filters are not effective because bulk mailers’ tactics
change, the researchers say. In the process, e-mail service providers
often filter legitimate mail, and the recipients miss messages they would
want to see.
“ABM works because it lets both the recipient and the sender negotiate
the terms under which they both want communication at a negligible cost,” Loder
says. “They do this without third-party human mediation, sunk costs
Wash says this system would improve the quality of information exchange
and reduce the e-mail volume that clogs networks and increases costs
for both consumers and businesses.
“In general, everyone’s productivity increases, with the exception
of the spammers,” he says.
As with any realistic spam solution, ABM requires additional infrastructure.
No part, however, is fundamentally new or unproven.
“Everything that is needed already exists—it just needs to
be wired together properly,” Van Alstyne says.
The researchers expect to discuss the proposal implementation with Microsoft
Corp. and other major companies. They’ve been invited to make a
presentation with Microsoft at the Conference on Email and Anti-Spam
July 30-31 in Mountain View, Calif.